Harry Potter and the Haters


If literature is in crisis in America -- or in the world -- people like me are almost certainly to blame. I know how to read. Indeed, I'm pretty well-educated. And, in fact, I read a ton of stuff. Books, even! But novels? Almost never. But Harry Potter novels? Yeah, I read those. I've seen all the Harry Potter movies and read all the Harry Potter books and pre-ordered my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.

This, it seems to me, might be a moment of opportunity for a literary critic. A chance for someone with the requisite chops to publish in the popular press an article that said something about the Potter books as literature, something smart and insightful that made me think "hey, this guy has smart things to say about books!" Something that would situate the books in some kind of context vis-a-vis the much larger cultural sweep of the novel. Something that might get an intelligence person who enjoyed the Potter books interested in some larger, more highbrow segment of the literary enterprise. Instead, the publication of each Potter book seems to herald the publication of a bunch of stuff like Ron Charles whine in The Washington Post which, to me, makes Charles -- and through his role as a stand-in for the larger enterprise, all the literati -- look like sneering losers who've decided to elevate their idiosyncratic hobby above everyone else's in order to look on the rest of us.

Not that the literary world is unique in this regard, but it's a weird impulse. If someone expressed an interest in some niche product that I enjoy I would, I dunno, try to convey some of my enthusiasm about the subject. Try to share some wisdom. Try to build further enthusiasm. Make recommendations. Anything other than act bitter and petulant.